Let’s make PHE stipends equitable

Opinion by Joe Troderman
Nov. 7, 2014, 3:33 p.m.

PHEs make one tenth the salary of RAs ($10,000) on campus despite doing similar amounts of work. They make approximately one seventh that of RCCs while doing more than helping set up Wi-Fi in the first week of school and changing printer paper later. But where RAs officially lead the dorm, build community and promote intellectual life, PHEs often do this too — many RFs consider their entire staff as a team and their PHEs can have on call hours — but they have the added duties of managing  physical and mental health issues. Especially in freshman dorms, the time commitment to dorms is not reflective of the $1,000 PHEs receive.

Because of the large time commitment involved in being a PHE, it can be difficult to have a job on top of staffing (especially in fall quarter when establishing dorm community is particularly time-intensive), and so low-income students are effectively selected against for this position. Many low-income students may still become PHEs, but due to the low salary, they have to take on a second job just to fulfill work study requirements. Being a PHE should fulfill any job requirement; it certainly has greater time commitment. But the low salary effectively causes students to be unable to maximally commit to the position, due to economic constraints.

All PHEs are required to take a four-unit PHE-training course the spring before they begin. Moreover, unlike RAs, who only take a two-unit course, PHEs cannot study abroad the spring before they serve as PHE and take that course in fall, as RAs can. It is clear that not only the payment, but also the training requirements, of PHEs and RAs are unequal.

The root of the payment disparity is found in the funding sources of PHEs, RAs and RCCs: PHEs are paid through Vaden as opposed to through ResEd. The PHE Coordinator, Colin Campbell ‘11, confirmed that he has applied for PHE pay equity many times in the past (and is trying again this year), but has never received it. The program was not expanded, in part due to the recent recession. As time has passed, Stanford’s pockets have become heavier; there is little reason why the program should not be expanded now.

But none of this information is new: Student affairs concluded a study on these wages two years ago, at which point ResEd was charged with surveying stakeholders and creating new pay structures. It’s two years later, though, and there has been no response from ResEd. Rumors swirl that ResEd is putting in place a new system through which they will create “health specialist RAs”. Brian Deutsch ‘15 held this role last year in Branner, where it was piloted. But his training was that of a standard RA with no PHE aspects, making him a glorified RA with a healthkit. At the least, ResEd has not informed Campbell of any full-fledged plans to do away with the PHE program and take it under their belt, so such a plan is not being implemented any time soon. A response from ResEd on their plans would be welcome.

ResEd has not taken the appropriate measures to respond to this situation of, essentially, volunteerism on the part of PHEs. The contribution that most PHEs make to their dorms is technically optional; building community and having commonplace events like “tea with the PHE” are not in their job descriptions. Nonetheless, PHEs do these things because they are members of the staff “team” and because knowing their residents makes them better able to do their job of supporting residents and making them feel comfortable in case they ever do need their PHEs for anything more substantial than a band-aid. Their stipends should reflect this.

PHEs do their jobs well because they care, but with such low compensation, there certainly is a sense among many PHEs that they are overworked for their pay. Thus, the low PHE salary is dissuading for some students, and may not incentivize the best work from those who do participate. Unfortunately, this is to the detriment of students’ mental and physical health.  And considering that ResEd is supposedly concerned with the physical and mental well-being of students, their lack of response is alarming. A lack of money would be a dubious excuse, as would be any statement that the issue is with Vaden, given that Student Affairs, which manages ResEd, has already looked into this matter.

But there is a simple solution to this problem: maintain the PHE program exactly as it is, but have contracts through ResEd that are at parity with  RA contracts. Arguably, PHEs might even deserve a greater salary than RAs, given that they essentially perform the duties of an RA, but with more extensive training and added health responsibilities. But for the time being, multiplying the salary by 10 to put it on the same level as an RA salary, would be a good first step.

Contact Joe Troderman at jtrod93 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

Joe Troderman is a columnist for The Stanford Daily. He is a member of the class of 2016 from Canton, Mass. (it's near Boston) pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Joe is passionate about the environment and enjoys playing poor-quality improvisational music on any stringed instrument he can find. To contact him, please mail him at jtrod93 'at' stanford.edu or P.O. Box 13387, Stanford, Calif. (even if it is just ad hominem attacks on his character, it will make his day to receive a letter that isn't for car insurance or bank accounts).

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